Quick Take

Risky A320neo aircraft of IndiGo, GoAir should be grounded immediately

| Updated on October 30, 2019

Pratt and Whitney engines on three of IndiGo’s Neo aircraft reportedly stalled. Representative image   -  Reuters

DGCA’s direction to IndiGo, GoAir to replace A320neo engines within 15 days, a delayed and inadequate step

Aviation regulator DGCA has finally chosen to be firm with IndiGo Airlines and GoAir. The DGCA’s direction to IndiGo to replace an engine on 16 of its Airbus A320neo aircraft within 15 days, or else ground the aircraft, comes not a day too soon. It has also directed GoAir to fit 13 of its Neo aircraft with one modified engine within 15 days. But these moves are not enough.

Pratt and Whitney engines fitted on three of IndiGo’s Neo aircraft reportedly stalled on October 24, 25 and 26 – following which these twin-engine aircraft returned to their departure ports. While these scares, in rapid succession, are the proximate cause for the DGCA cracking the whip, IndiGo’s troubles with its P&W-powered A320neo aircraft have been present for many years now, making the airline ground its planes several times in the past. Reports say that the airline has fitted modified engines for about half of the 97 Neo aircraft in its fleet, while the rest still run on the older, snag-prone engines.

Earlier this year, IndiGo had opted for CFM’s engines over P&W’s for 280 A320neo and A321neo aircraft that were to join its fleet. For its latest order of about 300 aircraft – a mix of A320neo, A321neo and A321XLR – IndiGo has not yet decided on the engine. The DGCA, having found that the problem is occurring in unmodified P&W engines that have flown for over 2,900 hours in climb phase, has now directed the replacement of such engines.

Given that passenger safety is among the regulator’s foremost considerations, why has it taken so long for the DGCA to swing into action? Sure, IndiGo dominates the domestic skies with about half the market share, and disruptions in its schedule can throw into disarray many a well-laid out plan. But shouldn’t safety override convenience, without exception? Also, if the regulator has now concluded that there is a safety risk, there seems to be little logic in giving the airlines a 15 day-window, instead of instructing them to ground these aircraft immediately. Risky aircraft should not be allowed to fly until the engines are replaced. Meanwhile, passengers have a right to be informed about the flight-worthiness of the aircraft.

It’s clearly a bad idea – for aircraft manufacturers, airlines and regulators – to wait for an accident before suspending suspect aircraft. The sad case of the Boeing 737 Max 8 attests to this – the aircraft remains grounded after the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air planes earlier this year.

On its part, the DGCA should enhance capacity, and independently and rigorously assess and certify foreign-made aircraft before their induction. Relying on reputations of hitherto-storied foreign regulators is hardly foolproof – as was apparent in the certification issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration for the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

Published on October 30, 2019

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